Pittsburgh Beerfest returned to Stage AE in 2018 for their summer event and, as we love a good beerfest, you know we had to make the trip down to check it all out.
What is the event like? Is it worth your time and money? Are the beers any good? These were some of the questions we wanted to find out the answers to.
A Summer Drinking Event at Stage AE
The model for Pittsburgh's Beerfest is fairly straightforward. Over 100 breweries and beer distributors converge on Stage AE to provide a night of unlimited libation consumption.
We arrived with an early admission ticket for an extra hour of drinking, and tried our best to sample as many of the several hundred available. While we ended up playing things safe, we still sampled 50 or 60 brews in total which was not bad for a few hours worth of work in the summer heat!
But because we do not need to explain what Beerfest is all about, we'd rather dive into what you need to know to get the most out of this annual staple!
Tips for Tackling Beerfest
Much like the winter beerfest event, we have several tips for those who are looking to visit the summer edition at Stage AE.
- Purchase early admission to get into the event for an extra hour of drinking.
- While this did help with the crowds, many of our favorite breweries had special beers for early entry audience that we think is the true perk.
- The gates for early access tend to open up to 30 minutes sooner than listed time, but you didn't hear that from us. About 4-5 breweries that were set up before the rope blockade were pouring early!
- Head down to Stage AE earlier in the day (2 to 5pm typically) to get your wristband and ID check to avoid the line when you arrive.
- An email goes out a few days before the event with this information, but it was in our spam folder and we found it by luck.
- Do not take any bags with you as Stage AE has a strict bag policy of 6″ x 4.5″ which no bags meet. Plan for a poncho if rain is in the forecast as umbrellas are not allowed either.
- Drink a lot of water and wear sunscreen, it'll be hot!
- Ask for small pours instead of filling your 6 ounce or 8 ounce glass all the way- it is a long night of samples. Be sure to utilize the dump buckets as well.
- Plan for a designated driver or uber as you'll be in no condition to drive afterwards.
As with most beer festivals, we always go in with a plan of attack after looking at the map, beer list, and general mood of the day.
For this event we decided to utilize our early access and try many of the samples that were available for the first hour only, which included many high ABV, sour, and barrel aged varieties.
From there, we opted to check out breweries that we have not sampled from before as, even if this may be sad to admit, we're getting to the point where we've tried most all of the breweries who come to this event thanks to our previous participation at the winter beerfest in 2017. (We also had friends coming in after and wanted to be mostly sober when they arrived as well.)
So What Beers Stood Out?
As with most beer events, we like to highlight a few of the beers that we tried that we absolutely loved. If you see any of these when out drinking, give them a try:
- Cigar City – Jai Alai – IPA – A Florida brewery expanding distribution into Pennsylvania. Cans of this popular IPA are available in many spots but it is significantly better on draft. Smooth!
- Dogfish Head – 120 Minute IPA – An early access exclusive (if only because it had a 30 person line 5 minutes after open and ran out fast) that was 18% DIPA. Tasted more like a strong Belgian than any style IPA we've had. Angie, the IPA fan, disliked it, but I loved it for its robust flavor and alcohol content. Sip slowly.
- Platform – Hyper Retro Saison – A lemon ginger saison from a Cleveland brewery we can't recommend enough. Been impressed with just about everything we've had from them.
- Rhinegeist – Maracuja – A passion fruit sour described as the most sour beer they make, with reminiscent kick like the rose bubbles (a favorite from the winter event in 2017) but more extreme acidity.
- Jacks Hard Cider – Earl Grey Cider – It is exactly like what it sounds like, and I can't believe I'm saying it for Jacks, but wow. I'd buy this.
- Rusty Rail – Qmongous and Creek Surfer – Perhaps our favorite brewery of the event, located near Philly. Qmongous was an Imperial Cucumber Ale with strong cucumber flavors and 8% ABV and the Creek Surfer was a super peanut buttery hefeweizen also hitting 8%. Dangeorus and delicious. We'll be making a road trip.
- Sobel – Honney Blossom Hefeweizen – A refreshing Hefeweizen from a brewery set to open southeast of Pittsburgh in 2019!
- Southern Tier – Samoa This – We may be cheating in saying that we did not actually sample this one here, but we've had it before and saw it was available. It tastes like the cookie. Just go to the North Shore and get it if it is available.
As this particular event we were behaving a bit more, we only had about 50 samples combined (compared to our 80 at the winter beerfest). Part of this was our choice of drinking less, but the other part was the heat- we lost the mood to drink much faster than at the winter event.
In fact, we think this is a very important point because beer festivals plus roasting summer heat are not that pleasant.
At the start of early entry it was just under 90 degrees in Pittsburgh during our visit with very minimal wind or cloud cover. The sun did not pass behind Heinz Field until about 7:30, so we had the first 90 minutes (60 of which were early access) with the sun beating down on us. After this happened being outside felt much better.
Thankfully, a 25% of the vendors are located inside at Stage AE, so there are also opportunities to escape the summer heat. While that means 75+ stalls are still outside, we'll take what we can get.
Overall, we have to look at the Pittsburgh beerfest winter and summer editions and ask which one is better. We enjoyed both of them, but if we have to be honest we liked the winter one just a bit more. The convention center is massive, they have a hardly noticeable security policy (unlike Stage AE's which is among the worst of any venue in the city), and being 100% inside you escape whatever uncomfortable weather is going on outside.
This shouldn't stop you from attending the summer beerfest at all- we still had a great time and always do at event such as these. But when it comes down to it, the summer heat is a forced to be reckoned with when volume drinking. And if there is one thing that Pittsburgh Beerfest truly is, it is volume drinking.
To check out more of the Pittsburgh Beerfest, click here. Please drink responsibly and arrange a designated driver or an Uber when attending the Beerfest.
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